American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A 1920s era PFE reefer

Over the years I have come across a number of unfinished projects. This is one that I recently finished up.

This car I would have to call scratch built. The car was really neatly built up -- I like the nice sides in particular -- but lacking a few details and not painted when it got to me.

The Scale-Craft doors visible on the model replace the ones that were on it when it got here, as they were the stamped steel version and rusted. The builder had set it up with Schorr trucks which I retained, and it also had Kadee couplers on it so this was a model someone was working on in maybe the 1970s or 80s.

As the car was neatly built originally, mostly it needed a neat paint job and decals. I painted it at the same time as the PFE reefers seen here but for decals I opted to use HO Microscale decals in a lettering version appropriate for the 1920s (with a built date in 1924). The result is a car that looks great with the models I run when I get the urge to see 1920s-30s models in operation.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Castings! Part V, a closer look at the built-up examples

This summer I started a project (here) to work out making resin castings of two rare, vintage American OO models, the Graceline quad hopper and the Nason cast boxcar. Having now lived with the completed models for a little while it is time for a closer look.

The main thing to say I have had examples both models sitting out on the siding at the front of the layout to have a longer look for a few weeks now. The result is they are growing on me.

The one that I think is the most successful is the open version of the Graceline quad hopper. What initially motivated me to the project was I had six of the wood block bodies for this model, but with no sides. Then I also lucked into a built-up frame, missing a few parts, but someone years ago had the same idea to build up the car as an open model. Theirs probably fell apart, the cardboard sides were not stiff enough. This car won’t! In this photo it is seen between a Schorr twin hopper and a S-C twin hopper.

The car is not without shortcomings – I wish for example the hopper bottoms were a bit bigger, but that is the way Graceline made the car. Overall though, I think it is the more effective of the models. Assembly involves careful cleaning and cleanup of parts plus the use of clamps and super glue. The trucks on both of the hoppers are rebuilt, a mixture of vintage Graceline parts with reproduction parts and new wheels. The version with the wood block body is nearly as effective. With a load it will be fine.

In the third photo you might notice that two of the hoppers were made from different material on the wood block body. That is because all of the hopper bodies came to me with six hoppers instead of eight. No idea why. I thought even about making the car as a triple hopper, but decided the sides and bracing really require the quad bottoms.

The boxcar is seen next to an original Nason cast boxcar. This is an aluminum casting. I am fairly happy with the result but then there is the comparison with a Lionel car – which does look sharper to be sure, and they are very common. But if you set that aside it is a good copy of the original and gives a little spark of visual variety. The trucks that look the best on the car are Nason Dalman trucks.

The big challenge is making good castings of some parts. The sides of both models can be made pretty reliably and nicely. The boxcar brake wheel end and the frames of both models however basically always have visible bubbles. I understand that on a commercial level people who sell kits of resin cast models use vacuum chambers to eliminate the bubbles. This is not practical for me and my limited setup.

In any case though I have a few more parts I want to make molds of and will work out some kits. In the photos you will see some parts are different colors. The first type of resin I used was slightly different, the current, stronger formula being somewhat translucent. The other thing though is I add some color I had on hand to the resin but it ends up being a slightly different quantity each time. With practice it has gotten more consistent.

On to filling a few holes and painting soon!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A closer look at two etched zinc cars

A recent arrival was an example of an early, pre-war boxcar by Oscar Andresen. I have now several of these cars, and there is some comparison to be made between this boxcar and the stock car, which was previously described in this article. 

One of the most interesting comparisons for me is you can see how the stock car has the outside ribs, and the boxcar does not. This is something that the builder was to add.

Backing up a step though, note the raised Rock Haven lettering on the boxcar. Except for my stock car every one of his models I have ever seen has the raised lettering for one of his personal roads. His idea I believe was that you would touch the raised lettering with paint different than the background paint, in those days when decals were a novelty. However, I can see how the stock car should have lettering as well, matching an identical car owned by Jack Bartman (as posted in the American OO Facebook group). The Mohawk Valley 8502 lettering was sanded off by the builder – which is understandable, if your home road is not the Mohawk Valley.

I only have one boxcar door and I marvel at how light and delicate the zinc etching is. It is as thin as though it was stamped brass, but the material is lighter.

On the other hand, the boxcar is a bit curious, as it is clearly an outside braced car but there are no horizontal boards visible. Was his idea being it was a plywood car? Or steel?

The stock car has no frame, but the Nason frame seen on the boxcar is a good choice.

The boxcar also has a cast aluminum Nason roof walk, from the cast Nason boxcar. That being there is a lucky find, as I was lacking that part for my boxcar casting project. So, I will be taking that off and making a mold soon.

The bigger picture thing is the topic of actually finishing one of these cars. I would like to finish the stock car, actually, using salvaged S-C doors. The big problem is cleaning it for painting, which I will just have to carefully tackle at some point. Hopefully I can get that corrosion off with a Q-tip and care.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A look at the new American OO FA-1 on Shapeways

Those who look at the American OO Scale group on Facebook already know, there is a new 3D printed model of the Alco FA-1 available now on Shapeways (here).

Back when I worked in HO (I was still active in a local HO club after I started in OO) I regularly ran a Train Miniatures FA-1 with a dummy F-7 diesel, painted for my Orient. I always enjoyed the pair visually, and ordering this model I am looking to do that same type of combination of EMD/Alco cab units together, but this FA-1 will be the dummy. In this first photo, the Shapeways FA is with my original HO FA, and in the final photo the OO FA-1 is with a F-3. Visually, the 3D printed body has the shape we want, it really is a sight for sore eyes for the OO gauger. But the steps are a bit fragile and there are other issues and limitations to be aware of.

Having now three other diesels with Shapeways bodies (more here), I would rate this body a bit better than the others but be aware, these are not as detailed as the average train set engine in HO. The biggest issues with all of them is the overall rough, grainy finish, with a close second being the “wood grain” effect on the roof due to the 3D printing process. This second photo was taken without a flash to highlight the issue, which is a remnant of the production process. It is more visible if you click on the photo for a closer view. I will try to sand some of that off.

Another issue will be painting. From experience, I know the recommendation is to use acrylic paint and that the paint soaks into the surface of the model. If you were thinking about a multi-color scheme it probably won’t turn out well. A solid, darker color would be the best choice, if for no reason but to obscure the low detail level. I will try red on this model and will hope for the best. (I did see a suggestion somewhere to paint with a primer first and then a clearcote finish before putting on the desired color. This seems like a good idea.)

As noted in the (now updated) Fleischmann FA article in this site, a FA body should be about a foot and a half longer than that of a F-3, and this Shapeways model has that relationship to the Schorr F-3. But that brings up the Fleischmann FA and this photo comparing the two. Basically, the Fleischmann model is an attractive one and in ways certainly better detailed than the Shapeways model. But also, the Fleischmann model is underscale for OO. It was marketed as HO but is larger – but visually not as big as the Shapeways model, it is about half way between HO and OO in size. In short, the Fleischmann model looks OK converted to OO operation but you could not run it with the Shapeways model.

The new model comes with 3D printed truck sideframes. Personally I don’t think they are very usable. I have a spare pair of Schorr RS-2 trucks which will be used at least initially on this model. If I were not using them, I would likely use the Tyco/Mantua HO sideframes that show up on a number of their models but in particular the C-430 and the Baldwin Shark. Those have the correct wheelbase for OO with much sharper detail than the Shapeways sideframes. All three types are seen in the photo.

To close, I spotted one more new 3D printed 1/76 diesel, a GP-20. It looks like the detail level is again not real sharp, but it would build up into a well-proportioned model for sure. For me I probably have enough diesels for now, and I have in particular my eyes on several of my steam locomotive projects as things I will be working on in the near future. But if you are thinking diesels, give Shapeways a look, if it is there in any scale contact the designer of the model, they may be willing to make the changes so that it can be produced in American OO.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Looking back on 40 years working in American OO

A recent note from Jack B. asked about how it felt to look back on 40 years in American OO. 40 YEARS!!! Checking in my files he was absolutely right, I purchased my first Eastern OO kit in August of 1977, and began corresponding with Temple Nieter, who encouraged me greatly, starting in November of 1977. I was only 15 (!!) at the time, having built a small layout in HO and also having dabbled in TT. Oh my, time flies. I had discovered OO originally in an old model railroading book that belonged to my older brother. This forgotten gauge intrigued me.

Temple Nieter referred to himself and others like him who got going in American OO when it was still commercially available as “OOdtimers.” Basically, they had got going in OO then, why switch? In the context of 2017 I am now an OOldtimer for kind of the same reason, I developed a level of expertise and like the size, feel, and history of the scale. And also, there's that part of me that does not want to do what everyone else is doing I guess.

I was not working on models actively when I was in grad school and in the early years of marriage and kids. But I did keep everything and picked back up where I left off. The models seen in the photo here are among my very earliest, the freelanced Fall River boxcab being my first OO locomotive, built up mostly from HO parts (the body started life as a Athearn F7B, the drive and other parts are from an AHM RS2), and that Eastern boxcar is my very first car, built from a fresh kit purchased directly from Eastern (which was still in business then). I also posted a video of a group of my early models in operation in the American OO Facebook group (here). As seen there, my main freelanced line has always been the Orient, I started building HO models for it before I got into OO (more on the Orient here).

I have enough projects to keep me busy for the next 20 years for sure, and part of what keeps me going is puzzling over projects and history. Like the truck project that became a summer goal for example (more here), I had a lot of S-C truck parts that could not be used really for lack of bolsters, then the 3D ones come out and boom. At one point about ten years ago I was down to just a few usable pair of trucks! Now I have put most of the usable parts to good use and have enough to last me that 20 years I bet.

Of course, the argument could be made that I could puzzle over projects in any scale, but OO does suit me. I’m not a fine scale modeler, I like the type of modeling I loosely call “retro modeling.” And learning new skills has been fun, such as casting in resin this past summer (more starting here).

As to goals, I hope to start back up the history series again (I have notes ready to start working on the 1960s) and take it up to today, then start back in on working toward a book of some sort, on OO. The big picture goal being to write something that is accurate but not boring, looking at the people in the scale in particular, and hopefully written in such a way that people who are interested in the history of model railroading in general would find it a good read.

In any case, yes, it has been 40 years. Wow. Hopefully 40 years from now there will still be some people still interested in our mostly forgotten scale.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Photos: A Scale-Craft 4-8-4

One of my recent projects was getting this vintage Scale-Craft 4-8-4 running. The drive was locked up and the wiring to an existing manual reverser was shot. But the motor was still good it turns out, and the model basically solid. It was originally built by someone who took some real time with the work. This is the post-war version of the model, with the built up frame. A couple of the springs were missing on the drivers and I rewired the model with a modern rectifier. In the photo, one wire has come off the connection to the tender. If I were to do it again, I would think about replacing the motor, but the model does run fine now, needing (sigh) larger curves than I have on my layout (it would run fine on something more like 36" radius). Click on any photo for a better view of this vintage model.








I have another of these models in the shop as well, needing a bit more TLC and it will get a new motor.  For more on the two versions of this model see this article. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A deeper look at sprung Graceline trucks

One puzzle for me recently has been assembling more working examples of sprung Graceline trucks. Their Andrews trucks were introduced in 1941 (more here), and the other versions are products they were developing and sold to some extent early in the WWII era. Their post-war successor, Transportation Models, sold a different truck that took the refinements further (but not very well executed, I have never seen one successfully built up, more here).

If you have any of these Graceline trucks around you may not have good feelings about them. The wheelsets shipped out were terrible (the plastic wheels were undersized in every dimension! Don’t track well and look very small in the big trucks), the wheelbase is (with one exception, seen in this photo) well over length, but the even bigger problem is A LOT of these have issues with the castings. Their earlier products have held up better.

However, in reality, by now if a vintage casting was going to go bad it has gone bad already. In various purchases, I have obtained these trucks, including a group of kits for the Andrews trucks. Also, years ago, I had tried to work on these and have on hand usable reproduction bolsters from that project. In short, I had enough parts around to think about working on them again with the Graceline hopper project also underway.

The frustration I had with these in the past was my reproduction sideframes were not stiff enough and also the wheels fall out easily. The few working vintage trucks I had come across all had some iteration of Famoco wheelsets, but those are so variable (tread width and flange issues) that even then they were not very usable.

Another issue in my past work trying to build or rehab these trucks was using modern axles that have the > ends. What I ultimately learned with that was that vintage trucks that are equalized at all actually need blunt end axles or the wheels tend to fall out when handling the car.

Periodically I would note that I had also saved a group of the "oddball" early S-C freight wheelsets with bakelite wheels (like were used on the front truck of the 4-6-0). They track fine, but need a truck with a wide opening and are difficult to use in Scale-Craft trucks, they need an exceptionally long bolster. But I found that these wheels can work great in the Graceline trucks, at least the Andrews trucks, they are in the truck on the left in the top photo.

The other story to tell is of what was some product development being done by Graceline during the war years. According to their catalog from early in the war the trucks available then were the sprung trucks, "the finest detailed and smoothest operating trucks in 00."

No. 181--A.R.A.
No. 182--Andrews
No. 184--Arch Bar

I had at some point early on stumbled onto examples of two versions of the A.R.A (Bettendorf) truck, all using the same bolster. I actually made molds of the “big” one years ago, which has a wheelbase that nearly matches the Andrews truck. There is also a “small” version that is scaled pretty well for OO, seen at the bottom of the comparison photo and at the right in the top photo.

I have not built up the arch bar example and probably won’t, they are somewhat overscale and fragile. I have a couple working pair of the big Bettendorf trucks (seen also in the final photo, on the left), those I did make work with careful adjustment using modern wheelsets with > axles. The one that intrigues me today is the small Bettendorf. I have two pair I did just get working. The design needs an axle that is very short and square, the journal boxes are small. I have parts to make several more pair but after a thorough search I don’t have any more suitable wheelsets on hand. A project for another day, as the built up trucks really are very nice.

I should mention there are two styles of bolsters. The ones packaged with the Andrews truck kits I have is lighter in cross section but none have been usable. The heavier style works with all these sideframes, and is what I reproduced.

The springs are not easy to put in. Among the Graceline springs I had the larger diameter ones look better. A lot of those same springs were too big (up and down) and it helped to cut them down at least a little. As I ran out of those I switched to what I am sure are O-scale springs which work pretty well.

I have built up or worked over seven pair of Andrews trucks, mostly with the S-C wheelsets but one has other vintage wheelsets that happened to fit, some iteration of Famoco. I mentioned earlier that I have unopened packages of these trucks, just like shipped out by Graceline. Every bolster I have checked so far has been unusable and I also put the side frames to a simple test. Does it break in my hands? About 3 of 4 cracks easily if not already broken. I can squeeze out one more pair of Andrews trucks from parts on hand (when more wheelsets are located), and have more than enough for the hopper project now.

On that project, a brief update is, as already posted (here), I have a car together, I plan to work up a frame mold, and have materials to move forward more when the weather cools off a bit, which it will soon. Projects are moving slowly, but I have enjoyed puzzling over them which certainly is what keeps me going in American OO.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A look at frames for American OO freight cars

Besides the full floor castings seen on Lionel boxcars, the Nason cast boxcar, and a number of Scale-Craft models (boxcars, stock cars, and late style reefers, plus the “half floor” used on their flat car), there are a number of distinct frame castings which are to be seen on vintage American OO freight cars.

Since Scale-Craft was mentioned already, to begin we have the frame used on the early version of their reefer. It is cast in the same, hard die-casting material as all of their castings. In the photo with it is a similar frame, Graceline, which is a soft metal casting. This frame was also produced by Selley as a separate sale item – and actually Selley also sold a version of the Nason reefer frame and a unique 50’ frame as well. More on that in a bit. And click on any photo for a bigger view.

Having just mentioned Nason twice, they made three distinct types of frames seen in this photo. The 50’ frame I have only seen in bronze, probably for the weight as it is for their flat car. The middle frame in the photo is the reefer frame and might be the Selley version of this. I have seen this casting in aluminum and in soft metal, this one is soft metal. It would be easy to just say the aluminum version is the Nason version, but if that is the whole story I don’t know, they sold cars for a long time with a series of owners. It is fish belly in design though, which visually defines it from their boxcar frame which is straight. The idea I think they had was that the reefer frame is for a wood car and the boxcar frame is for a steel car. It also came with their gondola kit.

Next up are the Eastern frame and the two versions of the Famoco frame. The early version of Famoco is the unmarked frame; later production split the frame in half to avoid shorts due to the trucks potentially getting rotated and picking up electricity from opposite sides of the track. The Famoco frames are of a hard die casting metal and the Eastern frame is a soft metal casting.

The next three frames are for Hawk cars. These are not real common; the 50’ frame is for their double door boxcar, the 40’ fish belly frame is associated with their boxcar and gondola, and the short frame (with the nice rivet detail) is for their caboose. The material is a soft metal and might actually just be straight lead from the look and feel.

Finally we have these three frames. The one at the top is the Selley 50’ frame, mentioned earlier and not a part of any kit, but it would have been handy building up a Picard 50' body. It is soft metal. The bottom one is also soft metal and is from the very rarely seen Hoffman kits. The middle one is sand cast bronze and is … a mystery. I have two of these. If it was just some project part made by someone back in the day or part of a very obscure kit or part line I don’t know. The fish belly is slightly canted to one side giving it more of the feel of the project of some individual.

Knowing what type of frame casting a car has can be helpful in identifying a model, but to close keep in mind that there was nothing to stop someone from using a different frame casting on something else. It was their model railroad after all, and hopefully they were happy with the results.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Castings! Part IV, building the pilot models

Slowly I have been working with the resin castings for the boxcar and hopper, and building up the models. Which has had a learning curve and a lot to ponder.

The first boxcar built up from the castings is in this first photo next to an original Nason sand-cast aluminum car that came to me in parts. Someone had done some good work with it, drilling a lot of holes and also tapping the holes necessary to assemble the car with machine screws.

With my new resin cast model, I was originally thinking to glue it together. But how? I finally realized that made no sense and added complication, it would be easier for sure to just do it with screws as Nason designed it. This means, however, some of my “good” castings are not real usable as hardly any of the tabs on the back of the sides and ends really filled up well. On one end I cut/sanded the tab off and replaced with square plastic, which worked.

In any case, I did get a first car together. Note that inside I added a piece of strip wood. I think that is the most logical way to hold the roof on, although the builder of the aluminum car was clearly thinking to use a lot of pins to hold the roof in place. It is a nice tight fit, won’t fall off certainly.

Probably I will still super glue the resin body together – maybe just the sides to the ends, leaving a removable floor and a removable roof. Next steps after that include working out ladders and other details of the car, and matching those with the vintage aluminum body. I think in the end you won’t be able, visually, to tell the two models apart.

Next up we have the Graceline hopper, one with my cast sides next to an original in the photo. The sides ended up being about 1/16 inch shorter in length than the original wood block body, so that was modified to suit the sides along with the original frame. The ends are originals from the parts supply and the bolsters are my reproduction castings. It took a lot of puzzling, and a helpful thing to me were the scale drawings in the 1944 Model Railroader Cyclopedia. 

Not seen in the photos are the hopper bottoms on the car in progress. The vintage block bodies I have only have hoppers for triple hoppers with them. I opted finally (shortly after the photos were taken) to make two more hoppers for the pilot model, it will be a quad hopper as designed.

In the final photo is also seen a loose frame for a Graceline hopper. This is a stabilized and rebuilt vintage part that I am hoping to copy next. The idea is to use it to make a complete set of castings for a Graceline reproduction hopper in resin and metal, one that won't need the wood block body. First though I need to seal it really well and work out details a bit better.

To close, I mentioned these are pilot models. It is fun thinking of them that way anyway. If these end up being castings I can make so well that I feel comfortable selling them or if they are simply a curiosity I give away to OO friends, time will tell.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Graceline reefer, restored

I have a soft spot for Graceline cars with the hand painted sides. (More on the topic here)

This particular car I have owned for some 20 years but have never had on display as it was lacking a roof. Looking at this pre-war model again recently I realized it would not take much time at all to work up a close approximation of the original roof. I used a spare late Graceline or Transportation Models roof as the base, adding a Scale-Craft roof walk and Eastern/Famoco hatches. I painted all the parts before adding them to the car. It was also missing ladders on the sides, so those I worked up from Eastern/Famoco castings. Testors brown is a little browner than the paint used on the ends by the original builder but is close enough to not stand out as very different. I did not replace the missing brake wheel.

Turning to the bottom (and the other side of the car – if you look closely you can spot differences in the lettering), it needed trucks. I opted at least for now for a spare pair of early Graceline trucks, the ones that look like S-C trucks from the side but they are quite different. This particular pair rolls fine but the wheelsets are under gauge, so if I decide to really operate this car I will have to work it over further.

The Kadee couplers are probably overkill for a car that I don’t plan to operate, but the long shank versions were an easy install. I do have a few original Graceline couplers, it would make sense to go back and put those on instead.

The hand lettering is distinctive. I love displaying these early Graceline models and do so with no fear of fading. Some lines of printed sides, in contrast, I keep in the dark in boxes (especially Champion).